When my husband and I told friends we were moving to Newaygo, some thought that was a made-up name for the phase of life we were entering or the Nirvana we were seeking.
"New Way Go?"
"New Age, Oh?"
"Come on, where are you really moving to?
By now, enough of those friends have visited us in West Michigan to know Newaygo is a real place. A real remarkable place. It's a place of fields and forests, sliced through by the Muskegon River, the North Country Scenic Trail, and a growing network of bicycle paths. It's a place where artists, writers, musicians and all manner of interesting folk have crafted an open-hearted community.
Of course, we knew next to none of this when we decided to move here. We'd simply fallen in love with a house in the woods and snapped it up after little more than a hasty Google search to check out the area (It's got rivers and lakes! And a bicycle path somewhere! Sounds great!).
Only after we'd signed the papers did the middle-of-the-night misgivings begin. What would we find to do during the long, dark winters? Besides each other, who would we talk to? And were all those camouflage-wearing guys we saw around town sportsmen or backwoods wackos?
As we ventured out to explore our new surroundings, we saw hints that kindred spirits inhabited these parts: the funky, artsy café down the road; a neighbor's People for Peace yard sign; a glimpse of an art gallery and a hip-looking coffee shop in town. Then we began to meet those folks. Linda, the café owner, welcomed us with fair trade coffee and an imaginative menu. Through her, we met her sister Kendra, mixed-media artist and earthy-householder. Those two women introduced us to Ellie, yoga instructor extraordinaire at Woodland Yoga, and the Monday-morning yoga women and Tuesday-morning yoga men, who made room for our mats in class and for us in their social circles. A flyer posted on the café bulletin board tipped us off to a writers' salon at the coffee shop in town. We checked it out and met the leader Sandra—a poet and chanteuse who also runs the coffee shop's weekly open mic. Through the salon, we met more fascinating people. Little by little, connections grew.
Now, nearly eight years after buying the house and four years after moving here permanently, we've come to know many more good and talented folks and found a sense of community we lacked in our pre-Newaygo life. And with the lifestyle changes we made when we moved here, we've found space and time for creative pursuits that previously got pushed aside by busy schedules or deadened by nightly TV watching. Did we have to move to the woods to accomplish this? Certainly not. I know people who are building community and doing extraordinarily creative things in Detroit and other cities large and small. The fresh beginning of a move or a new life chapter can kick-start the process, but more important is a commitment to cultivating creativity, connection and contentment wherever you are—in physical space, in phase of life, in circumstances.
In posts to follow, you'll meet other people who've made that commitment—some from here in Newaygo County, others from outside the area—and together we'll explore the rich terrain of crafting a creative, connected life. Of course I'll share my thoughts and report on my own projects, but I promise this won't be all about me!
I invite you to visit often and share your experiences, insights and suggestions of people, places, projects and topics to feature here.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.